After spending almost nine months in Colombia, I have come to notice many differences between my home country, Australia, and Colombia, particularly in the way people live, which I believe has an impact on the happiness of the people here. I am now trying my best to live by these values that I have learned in this beautiful country.
1.You can live simply and be happy
(Before reading this first point, you should know I am a girl who loves material things, so this one has been a bit of a challenge for me.)
The first difference that I have noticed is that Colombians live a lot more simply than Australians. This may be due to the fact that Colombia is, economically, a poorer country in comparison to Australia, but I think we can learn a lot from Colombians. What I mean by ‘more simply’, is that they are not always spending money on upgrading to new things just to keep up with everyone else. For example, many of the people I have met have smartphones that are years and years old, or they are somebody else’s hand-me-down phone and many Colombians are okay with it, it’s fine. I know that I have personally upgraded many of my phones when the previous ones were working fine, just because I wanted something new. I know first-hand that many other Australians do this too, as I used to work for a large telecommunications company where my job was to help people upgrade their phones. Our culture is driven by consumerism, always searching for the next new thing we have to have.
I notice this a lot in the kitchen. In Australia, in the kitchen we have a rice cooker, we have a coffee machine, we have a microwave, we have a bullet blender (because they look so cool), a regular blender too, we have a slow cooker, we have a convection oven and a regular oven plus a microwave, a toaster, a kettle and a special hot plate for cooking pancakes. We have too many things really! I love these things, but we really don’t need all of them. In Colombia, many kitchens only have a stove top and an oven (if you are lucky). They are big on blenders though because they love their natural juices. Though many don’t always have all of the machines and utensils a lot of us in Australia are used to, they still make pretty damn awesome food, arepas… mmmm.
The first thing I learned to cook in Colombia was rice without a rice-cooker because Colombians eat rice with everything (I realise that this post is going to say a lot about my cooking skills, but, in my defence, I remember watching My Kitchen Rules and some of the final contestants on there relied on a rice-cooker too, okay). The second thing I learned to do was to make coffee by boiling it in water in a pot on the stove, then pouring it through a filter into the blender and adding milk, and anything else you want to add. I was pretty surprised when this created a beautiful foam that was exactly the same as what our Nespresso coffee machine makes at home. I could also control how strong the coffee tasted because I was not using pre-made pods and, best of all, it only took a few extra minutes to make.
In summary, what I’m trying to say here is that you do not need all of the things you think you need to be happy. I love the fact that we are using a blender that is hand-me-down and years old, but still works really well; and that we don’t have a kettle, but boil water on the stove; and that we lived without a couch and a washing machine for six months and we survived. I challenge you to keep that extra money that you could spend on all of these ‘things’ (new iPhones, Fitbits, expensive brand name clothes, Bluetooth headphones, new laptops, too much makeup or skincare products… I could go on and on) and use that money to travel the world or invest it in your own self-development.
2.Be kind to everyone
Imagine getting into an elevator and saying hello to every person who gets on the elevator and, even if you have never met them or seen them in your life, you say goodbye to every single person that gets off. Imagine that if you don’t do this and say nothing, you would be considered rude. Well, that’s what happens in Colombia, particularly in the Santander region. What I have noticed is that Colombians, and particularly Colombians here, are incredibly polite and courteous to everyone. Every time we leave our apartment building this is what happens, along with saying hello to the building guards and thanking them for opening the door for us. We can also walk down the street and ask directions from a complete stranger and every single person we ask will try their best to help us.
What I love is that Colombians are not rude people in the least. They show a lot of respect towards others by the way that they address them. What I have noticed from the people I have met is that children are taught to have respect for their parents (for example, it is normal for children to address their parents as Señor [Sir] and Señora [Mrs or Ma’am]). While for me this seems really formal and kind of weird, and I could never imagine calling my mum Ma’am or even mother, here it is very normal and it does not mean that there is any less affection between parents and child. It just teaches the children to be respectful.
Customer service here is spectacular as well. People will do backflips to make sure you have the best service without them having to resort to aggressive sales techniques and, because of this, Colombians are excellent sales men and women (there is a saying about the people from Medellín that says that they can sell ice to a penguin in the North Pole). They have also integrated WhatsApp into pretty much all commercial enterprise. For example, if you want to book your cat in to get castrated, send the vet a WhatsApp message. It’s completely normal and they will reply in minutes, and you will be booked in. They will probably even offer to come and pick your cat up right away, which was what happened to us yesterday. In comparison, in Australia it is frowned upon to be using phones in most workplaces and is often considered to be unprofessional.
There is something about this politeness that just seems to set up a nice welcoming environment and sits really well with me. It makes me feel that people have time for you. Even as a foreigner, I have never had a bad experience even though my skin colour makes me stand out. In fact, people here are probably more kind to me because they want me to have a good impression of their country, which has suffered from a bad reputation for many years. I believe Australians are generally incredibly kind and welcoming people, but I have to say, from my experience here, that Colombians just set the bar a little bit higher. My advice to you is, if you do not already, practice kindness to others (even complete strangers) because I promise that your kindness will go a long way and will create a better environment for everyone.
If you love food, you will love this part.
I see Colombians doing all kinds of things to earn a buck and it actually makes life insanely helpful for others too. For example, what I love the most is that when you are travelling food comes to you. It is very normal for Colombians to hop on the bus to sell you a snack while it is travelling. I cannot tell you enough how awesome this is. I’ve seen people selling everything, from fried chicken to chocolate on buses. When you have been travelling for hours without stopping, it’s so great when the food comes to you. Also, if you are driving in the car, you will often find people trying to sell you food at areas where you need to stop, such as at toll booths. Most parks are also packed with little vendors trying to make a sale. This makes for an awesome atmosphere and a very easy place to find a snack.
However, you won’t only find people selling food, but also selling services. They sell minutes from their phone plans, they sell you a bus trip from their metro card if you don’t have a card, they offer to watch your car while it is parked for a few coins, you can rent a washing machine if you don’t have one. This is delivered to your house (often by motorbike) for about $5 a day. You can also see people juggling fire and breakdancing at intersections for spare change. They take advantage of what their region has to offer and sell that such as coffee, jewellery made from small ancient fossils found in the area, edible ants or pieces of coconut dipped in panela (which is similar to toffee… sooo goood). To me it seems that that anything that you can think of to sell to make a few extra dollars, there will already be a Colombian doing it.
What I take away from this, and I hope that you do too, is that if you can think creatively, you can get yourself out of a bad situation, or work hard to improve your current situation. What skills do you have that you can make use of? Can you work out how to fill a gap for others that no one has thought of yet? What resources do you have access to right now that you could turn into something? I came to Colombia with my laptop, a camera, my digital drawing tablet and a love of art and craft. Without a working visa, I have turned to the internet to earn an income while I am here. These are my resources. What are your resources?
In summary, to live a happier life: live simply, be kind to others, use your intelligence and creativity to help you solve problems and improve your circumstances. You can do it. I believe in you. Oh… and please do visit Colombia one day!